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Winter Wedding Gets American Premiere At Theater For The New City 5/5-22

Theater for the New City presents American premiere of rollicking farce, "Winter Wedding" by Hanoch Levin, translated by Laurel Hessing and David Willinger, directed by David Willinger.

How far would you go to get out of a family funeral when there's a wedding on? Metaphysical farce critiques family loyalty, contemporary values, and the very notion of human goodness.

May 5 to 22, 2011
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at East 10th Street), East Village
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3 pm
$12, Box office 212-254-1109;
Runs 1:30. CRITICS ARE INVITED on or after MAY 5.

Theater for the New City will present the American premiere of "Winter Wedding" by the late, famed Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin, translated by Laurel Hessing and David Willinger, directed by Willinger, May 5 to 22. The play is a metaphysical farce about a conflict in an Israeli family between a wedding and a funeral. Every human foible, stupidity, vanity and cruelty is found in the characters on stage and we laugh heartily as we find ourselves reflected in every one of them.

"Winter Wedding" starts out with a deathbed promise. Right before Latshek Boobitshek's mother, Alteh, dies, she challenges her son to make sure there are family members at her funeral. He vows to deliver a tight, unified family circle. The problem is, Alteh's only relatives are her cousins, who are marrying off their daughter, Velvetsia, tomorrow. Alteh's funeral would conflict with an enterprise which has been delicately planned and cost them many precious years of scrimping and saving ("Four hundred guests, eight hundred roast chickens - in the garbage!"). If they never hear of the funeral, they won't have to go, so the cousins spend the play eluding the news of their Aunt's death by evading their grieving relative. Latshek's pursuit and the cousins' evasion are reminiscent of Aristophanes, Feydeau, and Ionesco. The cousins would sacrifice anything, even their lives, for their paltry, selfish plan. The play critiques family loyalty, contemporary values, and the very notion of human goodness. It's a very local, family situation that implicates all humankind.

The characters are wild, stupid, vain, mean spirited, brutal, cruel and frightening, but we laugh because we recognize in them something familiar: they mirror elements of the human soul. One of the characters, Tsitskeva, is so utterly mean spirited that we actually find ourselves rooting for her, to our surprise (but after all, it is when she faces off with the Angel of Death).

In this TNC production, music is by Arthur Abrams, set design is by Mark Marcante, lighting design is by Chris Brown and costume design is by Caridel Cruz. The actors are Debra Zane, Tony Greenleaf, Primy Rivera, Nikki Iliopoulou, Charles Dinstuhl, Joe Barna, Beth Bailis, Rachel Wolf, Gus Weinstein, Brandon Judell, Rob Weinzimer, Al Patrick Jo and Songdance.

The production promises to be as high fantastical as the play itself, transporting the characters and audiences to the far reaches of the world (including the Himalayas and the drastically slanted rooftop of a beauty parlor) as Latshek Boobitchek's family flees him and the news of his mother's death. There will be rollicking farce combined with black humor, grotesquery, and pathos as the mask of social propriety falls away like the layers of an onion.

Playwright Hanoch Levin was born in Tel Aviv in 1943 and died of cancer in 1999 after winning a reputation as a National Treasure in Israel. His parents were Polish refugees and he viewed the world through the lens of a survivor. His plays are more universal than Israeli, characterized by powerful language and a Rabelaisian sense of humor. Levin laughs deeply at life through prototypical characters whose attributes--and even the onomatopoetic quality of their names--are original yet familiar. When you stop laughing in a Levin play, you often find you've just seen something extremely sad.

Levin began his artistic career as playwright, author and poet in the mid-1960's. He loved his country, Israel, and held up the mirror of satire so that humanitarian ideals of peace and brotherhood would not be drowned in the euphoria following his country's military victories. His body of work ranged from satirical cabarets (earning him something of a "Peck's bad boy" reputation) to bittersweet comedies, comic tragedies and reworkings of classical and biblical dramas. Occasionally, his critiques of Israeli politics ran afoul of the military censors and were banned, among them "The Queen of the Bathtub," a satire from the 70's.

His plays are performed nearly every year in Israel, mainly in the national theater Habima and The Cameri Theater. Levin or his equally talented brother directed most of his Israeli productions himself. He also wrote several screenplays, radio plays, and collections of poetry and prose. His Israeli awards included the President's Prize and the Art Council Prize. His plays have been translated into six languages and performed in festivals throughout the world. Sardonic, ironic and absurd, they resonate strongly to Israelis and Jews worldwide. Today, Israelis seeking an apt expression in any number of situations often find just the right quote from a Hanoch Levin play.

In 1999 while Levin lay dying of bone cancer, the actors rehearsed his last play, "Requiem," right in his hospital room. When he died in 1999, there was national mourning in Israel and throughout the world for a great playwright and poet.

Although he composed 63 plays in his lifetime (and directed 22 of them), relatively few of Levin's plays have reached New York. (Meanwhile, his plays have become increasingly popular in Europe in the last decade.) In NYC, "Ya'acobi and Leidental" (1981), "Labor of Life" (1995) and "The Whore from Ohio" (2006) were all presented by La MaMa. "Job's Passion" (2008) was presented Theater for the New City, directed by David Willinger. "Murder" was presented by PS122 in 2007. "Krum" was performed by a Polish company at BAM in 2008. Levin's opera, "The Child Dreams," had a staged reading at 59E59 in 2006.

Director/co-translator David Willinger's most recently directed "Under the Shadow of Wings" this February, a double-bill of "The Death of Tintagiles" by Maeterlinck and "Karna and Kunti" by Tagore, for the Ambassador Theatre in Washington DC. His last production at TNC was "Job's Passion" by Hanoch Levin. His other previous productions there include "Don Juan in N.Y.C." by Eduardo Machado, "Master and Margarita," adapted by Jean-Claude van Itallie from the novel by Bulgakov; his own adaptation of "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers, "Secret Agent" by Joseph Conrad, and his musical adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Manor," called "The Open Gate." His other TNC productions include the American premiere of "Jim the Lionhearted" by René Kalisky (in Willinger's own translation), "Minus One" by Gyavira Lasana, "He Saw His Reflection" by Miranda McDermott and his own plays -- "Bombing the Cradle," "Caprichos" and "The Trail of Tears: A Drama from the Historical Record," all directed by the author.

Others of Willinger's own plays that he himself directed include "Andrea's Got Two Boyfriends" (which has been performed all over America), "Malcolm's Time" and "Frida y Diego." He has adapted and directed the novels, "The Stranger" by Albert Camus, "The Wound," by Paul Willems and "Martin Chuzzlewit" by Charles Dickens. Further productions include "The Terrorist" by Howard Pflanzer "Diary of Lights" and "Solo Voyages" by Adrienne Kennedy (with Joseph Chaikin), "Terror of Suspension" by Albert Bermel, "The Temptation" by Hugo Claus, in his own translation, Strindberg's "Ghost Sonata," Beckett's "That Time," Brecht's "The Exception and the Rule," Turgenev's "Month in the Country," Ghelderode's "Lord Halewyn," "Piet Bouteille" and "Blockheads," Maeterlinck's "The Blind," Molière's "Don Juan" and John Ford's "'Tis Pity She's a Whore."

Willinger is Professor of Theater at City College, where he has also directed some thirty plays. He has received awards from the N.E.A., the N.E.H., the Fulbright Foundation, Drama-Logue, A Translation Center Award, the Jerome Foundation, a Rifkind Center Award, a Mellon Fellowship, a number of PSC-CUNY Awards, and an award for Rayonnement des Lettres à l'Etranger from the Belgian Ministry of Culture. He writes, "I am delighted to be doing this fabulous play at Theater for the New City for Crystal Field. TNC is my artistic home, a true nurturing environment for theatre directors, a final bastion of artistic freedom." He has also directed at LaMaMa E.T.C., The Cubiculo, The Interart Center, HERE, Hartley House Theater, Avalon Repertory Theater and the Laurie Beechman Theatre. His full-length indie film "Lunatics, Lovers, and Actors," has shown at 5 festivals so far, both in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Co-translator Laurel Hessing graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Comparative Literature. She also studied in Paris at L'Alliance française, Ecole de langue and took courses at l'Université de la Sorbonne pour les étudiants étrangers and at l' Ecole de Seine (préparatoire pour l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts). She translated her father-in-law's portrayal of events as an inmate in a Nazi concentration camp from the original German. The original document and translation are now in the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute. Hessing is fluent in French, Hebrew and English. Her musical, "The Little Prince," based on the book by Antoine de St. Exupéry, was presented by TNC in 1973 with score by David Tice and actor Tim Robbins in the title role. Robbins, who acted in plays and musicals under Crystal Field's direction for six years, is now a Board Member of TNC.

As a child, Ms. Hessing spent summers in Free Acres, a Single Tax Community founded on the principles of Henry George, located in the Watchung Hills of central New Jersey. She wrote "The Free Acres Pageant," a musical based on the colony, which was produced there for its 75th Anniversary in 1985 and "Sketching Utopia" (TNC, 2001) with music by Arthur Abrams, a musical drama of the lives of Greenwich Village radicals who envisioned and built "ideal communities" based on the exciting progressive philosophies before World War I. She has also written two historical works based on the community, "The Annotated Anthology of Free Acres Writing" (1992) and "Treasures of the Little Cabin" (1999).

She wrote "The Golden Bear" (TNC, 2003), a musical with score by Arthur Abrams, based upon the novel "Jews Without Money" by Michael Gold. That production was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her last show was "The Further Adventures of Uncle Wiggily: Windblown Visitors" (TNC, 2008), a verse musical with music composed by Arthur Abrams, directed and choreographed by Crystal Field. For the past two years Laurel Hessing has been translating the autobiography of Rabbi Uri Felshin, who was born in 1874 and died in 1947. Uri Felshin was the Rabbi in the settlements of Zichron Yacov and Metullah in the early 1900's before the state of Israel, when Palestine was administered by the Turkish Government. He wrote in Biblical Hebrew.


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